Castle Hill: A quiet waterfront Bronx community
Known mostly as a densely populated neighborhood with the hustle and bustle of trains, traffic and people crisscrossing paths, Castle Hill has quietly undergone a transformation that has left it more suburban.
It’s a resurging blue-collar to middle-class neighborhood in the Bronx, easily accessible by the 6 train and the Cross Bronx and Bruckner expressways. For the past 10 to 15 years, the nabe has blossomed with new construction of one-, two- and three-family homes, especially at its southern tip.
That was encouraged by a tax break created by the city in 1971, according to nyc.gov, under which new homeowners are excluded from paying property taxes for roughly the first 20 years of ownership.
That made the area attractive to new homebuyers who wanted a suburban neighborhood without facing the high property taxes on Long Island.
“If I describe Castle Hill to potential homeowners or renters, I would let them know that they are moving to a neighborhood on the rise,” Coffy Bailey, a real estate agent with nearby Exit Realty Power, said.
In addition to prospective homeowners, many former residents are looking to move back to Castle Hill, where they’ll find more affordable homes, Bailey said.
Recent sales, according to Exit Realty, show the median cost of one-family homes is about $255,000, and two-family homes are about $357,000.
There are still houses around from World War II that add character to the area. They complement the numerous buildings housing rental apartments, including the Castle Hill Housing development.
According to nycgov parks.org, Castle Hill Neck, the neighborhood’s original designation, came from Adriaen Block, a 17th century New Netherland Company explorer, who thought that the fortified Siwanoy Native American village resembled a castle.
In the early 1920s, Castle Hill was home to European immigrants looking to escape the packed conditions of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Twenty years ago, residents were mostly black and Hispanic, and the nabe has been getting more diverse since.
“I love the fact that we have many diverse groups here. We get to experience the different cultural lifestyles of different people,” said Francisco Gonzalez, who has served as district manager of Community Board 9 for the past 20 years.
While Castle Hill had a rough patch with drugs and crime in the 1980s, like most of NYC, locals say it’s a great place to live.
“I feel safe,” said Janeya Anderson, an 18-year-old resident and a Borough of Manhattan Community College freshman. “It’s not that noisy and I like the community.”
The 6 train stops nearby on Westchester Avenue at Castle Hill Avenue
Bx 5, Bx 22, Bx 36, Bx 39
NYPL, 947 Castle Hill Ave.; 660 Soundview Ave.
USPS, 1950 Lafayette Ave., 718-892-7054
Castle Hill is covered by the 43rd Precinct. Crime statistics compared with September last year show a 53% decline in murders and a 20% decline in rapes. As reported in the NYPD’s CompStat Report, notwithstanding that 18 people were murdered last year, there was a 74% drop compared with 1993. Also compared with 1993, burglaries were down 82%.
CELEBRITIES FROM CASTLE HILL
Shorehaven Diner, 625 Castle Hill Ave. This is a classic American breakfast spot. Go with a jumbo three-egg omelet and top it off with coffee and the delectable strawberry shortcake. 718-824-0094.
El Valle Tipico, 849 Castle Hill Ave. This new Dominican restaurant is already bustling with customers. It’s a new favorite among the locals who say they love the roast chicken and Mofongo de Pollo. 929-777-9171.
Lechonera El Sazon Criollo, 682 Castle Hill Ave. This quaint takeout restaurant offers up some of the best Latin food you’ll find in the nabe. It specializes in delectable pork combos with platters like juicy fried pork chops with rice, beans and salad for $17.95. This local spot may be small, but the portions are big. Order for pickup or delivery. 347-810-9018.
Gold Mountain Restaurant, 1925 Turnbull Ave. This Chinese restaurant’s bar is a great respite when you finish shopping at the Bruckner Mall. While it doesn’t have bar stools, you can still grab a shot and shoot the breeze. 718-822-1334.
Jimmy’s Cafe, 905 White Plains Rd. This lounge has a friendly staff, and bartenders can mix any drink to taste. An intimate lounge with mostly a mature, 25-and-over crowd, this inviting spot is great for sipping at a small table or dropping shots at the bar. 718-319-1200.
SHOPPING & SERVICES
The Bruckner Plaza Mall, located nearby on White Plains Road, is stocked with the big chain stores. But Castle Hill Avenue boasts more local businesses.
Veritaly Organics, 2347 Lafayette Ave. This wholesale store sells organic food as “high quality at low prices.” Here you’ll find pasta, balsamic vinegar and espresso coffee, along with other staples. 718-931-1440.
Dynamic Expressions Art Gallery, 770 Castle Hill Ave. This charming gallery promotes and sells art “produced by artists with intellectual and developmental disabilities.” 347-810-6543.
One Stop Shopping Contractors, 847 Castle Hill Ave. Serving the neighborhood for more than 30 years, these contractors can do renovations big or small. From bathrooms to kitchens, they offer good and friendly service. 718-597-6800.
Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club, 625 Castle Hill Ave. Located in the heart of Castle Hill, this club offers many programs that mentor, teach and “respond to community needs.” It’s a great place where boys and girls are offered educational enrichment, sports programs and teen empowerment. 718-828-4518.
YMCA, 2 Castle Hill Ave. This waterfront location is the only YMCA based in the Bronx, but it’s also one of the biggest, at 27,000 square feet. It has a gym and a six-lane indoor pool, and it offers free classes to members. Sign up by Oct. 14 and pay no joiner’s fee. 212-912-2490.
Castle Hill Park-Wappinger Trail, At the entrance at Pugsley and Lacombe avenues, the trail doubles as a bike path, where you ride along the Pugsley Creek Greenway. Bike riders can take in some splendid views of the waterfront, including the Whitestone Bridge. The path goes through the park and ends at the adjoining Pugsley Creek Park on Stephen Avenue.
Directly opposite some Castle Hill residents, and off the shore of Westchester Creek, is a collection of vacant two-family homes known as the Vistamar Complex, at 261 Zerega Ave.
Residents complain that there is suspicious activity going on at the unpopulated complex.
Angel Pomale, a 72-year-old retiree and 12-year resident, said a security guard should be posted 24 hours a day.
Despite the gates that block off the development, Pomale said the activity makes people in the neighborhood uneasy.
“People come in and out as if they’re working in construction,” he said.
Another homeowner, who asked not to be identified, said “undesirables” enter and exit the property late at night and agreed that the lack of security is a big concern to homeowners.
According to the New York Department of Finance, 18 houses were already built on the property but none of them have been sold.
“We just want them to come over here and do something about it,” Pomale said.
Vistamar Complex LTD could not be reached for comment despite numerous attempts on the phone and in person.
Q & A with Abraham Schwartz, longtime Castle Hill resident
Abraham Schwartz is a retired plumber from the MTA’s Structure Maintainer Division, where he worked for 20 years. He and his wife, Altagracia, moved here from Stuyvesant Town more than 12 years ago. They have raised two children.
What do you love about Castle Hill?
I like that Castle Hill is quiet and there’s very little traffic.
Why did you move to Castle Hill?
We wanted to buy a house and we also wanted to be close to my wife’s business, DJ Hair Salon.
Being so close to Westchester Creek, were you affected by Superstorm Sandy?
Yes, we had no electricity for six days. We used flashlights to get around the house.
Do you have second thoughts about living so close to the water?
Yes, it does cross my mind; it’s very scary to think about.
What do you think needs improvement in Castle Hill?
The only thing they have to change is the cars and motorcycles that race up and down here at the end of Castle Hill Avenue.
What would you tell your friends about the area if they thought about moving here?
I would tell them it’s a nice place to live and to bring up your kids.